Goals: Progress and Future Goals

I’m happy with the progress of my goals from earlier in the year. Have run a half marathon; on the way to completed novel; have lost 5 kilos, but not all the way there. Some goals I haven’t completed, but I have worked towards and will complete in the future: I doing a course ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’, which is helping me understand both mood, and emotional eating. Some goals are for the future; some ran into trouble (ie, I realised that some of the writing ones were not possible while overseas on this VISA.)

I have new goals. They are as follows:
– Complete a marathon by my birthday, 22 April 2014.
– – Complete an ‘advanced’ half marathon, with improved time (don’t rush it, this time!)
– Lose 6 kilos by February 3rd 2014
– Go to bed 10-10.30 for 90 days consecutively (95% achievement okay)
– Write and edit, to 2nd draft, an 80,000 word novel by April 2014
– – Complete NaNoWriMo in 2014
– Exercise at 6AM for 90 days consecutively (-Sundays) (90% achievement okay)
– To complete The Ancient Greek Hero in 24H (course I’m studying online at Harvard) by 15 December 2013
– To finish The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton, by 15 December 2013

Keep track of my progress on Runkeeper, updates on this blog, and in Michelle Bridges’s 12wbt related posts, etc.

🙂

Island Hopping

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a clear month! We’ve been in Scotland – the Hebrides, to be specific; North Uist. There are a couple of reasons for my not posting. The reasons are related. At first they will seem counterintuitive. Firstly, writing makes me happy. And I’ve been happy. I haven’t been writing blogs because my happiness needle is flicking towards the red. And as this is a holiday blog, rather than a work blog, I have allowed myself to not write it, when I didn’t want to.

I didn’t stop writing, however – rather, I have been writing fiction. Which I do when I’m happy.

But writing fiction makes me stressed, because although I love writing, the feelings around it – before it, usually – are terrible. And so I feel bad, hence the blog!

No. Kidding. Just trying to be entertaining! I’m just writing to say that I may blog, and I may not, depending on the fiction I write, which I am prioritising right now. Unfortunately, that means you miss out on the best part of the trip! I have included select pictures, and will probably add more. Some of these are from Skye, where we have arrived freshly today.

The Hebrides is wonderful; a place of changing, bountiful landscapes, a newly framed picture every minute with a new wind, a new sky. Andrew’s having a great time searching for otters.

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Diary of a Nervous Kid

Take, for example, the way I’ve approached this café this morning.

The look on my face needs work. I don’t smile, my chin and lip area under the mouth so soft and relaxed, the lip itself falling out as if the scaffolding has gone, and it’s suddenly turned into a Dali painting. I order the coffee, skinny latte. She asks if I want a single latte, because she’s misheard me. That’s another symptom – small talking. I’m a low talker. Because I don’t want people to pay me any attention. I repeat skinny, no smile, and say that I’d like it stronger. That’s what I say: something like,

‘No, I’d like it… stronger than that.’ A long, adjective filled sentence that apologises for its existence. Instead of just, ‘No. Skinny, two shots.’ That would take power, volume, intention, desire for something I believe I am entitled to, among other things.

‘That’s okay – we have a special, 35K for a large,’ she says. And because that doesn’t really follow from my own speech, I wonder for a moment what’s going on. Is she saying I need a special? Yesterday, I was so nervous handing over change that I think the assistant gave me what I wanted when I was 1Kr short. I panicked and didn’t check. There was someone behind me. There is someone behind me today. Will I get enough coffee in my drink? Will it be skinny? I leave it all. I want to make sure (paranoid), but I don’t have the confidence to check (low self esteem).

There is no smile in my cheeks, or my eyes, or anywhere where that sort of this is supposed to happen. Andrew tells me we will practice – how to hold my face so that I don’t concern shop keepers. People I talk to on a daily basis. Perhaps this is one reason I’m a writer – or perhaps it comes from writing, and being so often alone. But I can’t blame writing, because I was an alone kind of person before it came along. I don’t have an identity other than that – nothing I can put my finger on.

Because I don’t want to put my finger on sorrow, I guess – sorrow for no reason – and say that this is who I am.

My hair is a different colour today – I had it done, yesterday, by a friend of Marie’s, free of charge, because Marie swaps treatments with her. I didn’t have to pay. I feel like Marie is too nice, but there is no such thing – too nice for me to deal with. Because I’m sick. Can’t relate to people well. Have a lot of empathy for people – but not the ability to relate.

I have to talk to the hairdresser the whole treatment. Feeling my sentences get less and less cohesive. The same page of the New York Times open in front of me the whole time. Not reading about Syria. I get my eyelashes done, my eyebrows waxed. That’s good. But outside, I feel like a different person, not in a good way, completely uncomfortable with myself. Don’t know what I look like. I used to be blonde, but this is new to me. I’m staying in Marie’s house, in her room, because she insists.

I walk around Copenhagen, my path on octopus arms out from the Stork Statue, not eating cake. Making a conscious effort to not eat cake. Catching glimpses of myself in windows. I go home.

Alone in the apartment, there was a buzz at Marie’s apartment door. I wasn’t expecting anyone yet. Andrew is out playing Aussie rules in Copenhagen (!) and Marie is at work. I am holding a coffee and put that down to open my door. There is a man standing at the outside door. He is in a tracksuit and holds papers to his chest. I opened the door because he had buzzed, not because I wanted to.

He came in, and started putting the junk mail in the letter boxes.

Suddenly I became worried – worried that the people here, in this apartment block, wouldn’t like that someone had let a guy in. And I would have to stay with him, while he finished. I advanced a step.

‘I’m sorry. I actually shouldn’t have let you in. Can you please go?’ I said, still holding open the door, and indicating that he should leave out of it. He looked at me, and didn’t go.

I put out my hand, to the area where at his chest, he held the papers. ‘Please go,’ I said.

He pushed past my hand and kept putting the papers in the boxes.

I panicked. I felt myself go out of myself, and I pushed him, on his chest and the papers, toward the door. ‘Go!’ I yelled, ‘or I’ll call the police!’ He lurched a bit towards the door when I pushed him. But he came back in through, and looked at me. Not pushing me back. He was not just standing, not trying to figure it out. He was focussing, and not pushing back; making an effort not to. Because that’s not what you do to a woman, I suppose. I yelled. ‘I will call the police if you don’t leave!’ I said. I pushed him again. Pushed him out the door. He resisted, but not as much as I’m sure he could. He stood outside the door as I made the lock catch, and ran up the steps.

It felt as if time was lagging. Things were not happening, in these moments after I closed the apartment door behind myself. There was nothing in the air. My chest and my heart. My breath, not coming. The small noises I made to myself. Not exclamations, not to the normal person, but exclamations to me, small noises that marked that something had happened. Noises I make when I am remembering something from my life that I regret.

I regret, more than anything, pushing a man I didn’t know out of the apartment. I regret that this is my reaction to fear, to discomfort, to violently make the thing not be happening any more.

I think of my future children. Whether I will act in that way when they provoke me. Think about not having children because of it.

I call Andrew, on WiFi, knowing he will not have the reception to pick up. I turn on the TV. I got to the drawer and eat four tablespoons of Nutella. The next two hours, in a dream, pressing the program button on the remote.

It all comes down on me like a wave, and I curl up in the foetal position, and stare at the ceiling. I read some Bleak House.

That Dickens really has a way with words.

Australia, 2300, KØBENHAVEN S

It is indescribable. Being surrounded by Australian accents, Australian sensibilities; Australians. From the first moment, it drags you out of the zone you are in.

‘Hi. Australian Embassy.’

‘Hi, we’re here for the Embassy to vote.’

‘How many are you?’

‘There are two of us.’

‘Okay, so there’s a bit of a line. Maybe if you come in and wait downstairs, and when a few come back down you can come up. Alright?’

‘Yeah, okay.’ The door buzzes and opens toward you, and you feel a change in the air. Was he putting on a strong accent, or is that just… how Australians sound?

We have approached the nondescript building, the familiar flag hanging low, almost hiding. The rooms all seem unoccupied.

The lift opens and a tall guy, clearly Aussie, with a cheeky smile and his long shirtsleeves undone, shirt unironed, ushers us into the lift as a bundle of students tumble out.

‘Here’yah, sorry about the wait,’ he says. We take the lift up to the second floor. The lift opens to wood floors and plants, spiky plants in the window. Most of the voters are students.

‘Bloody hell,’ says one of them, taking up the small room that we’re not meant to vote in. He pulls out the senate ballot and it falls to the floor. His friend’s is smaller. ‘Mate, yours doesn’t deserve the bench space,’ he says, and wraps it around his mate’s head, making a show of trying to find space.

I speak to an Australian businessman, married to a Dane, and a student who ends up numbering more than one party above the line. The guy gives her a new ballot. Everyone is almost bursting with excitement to see each other – people we’ve never met. A middle aged couple here on business talk about Rugby League to another couple.

‘We should catch up, mate.’

‘Yeah, might do.’

Andrew tells them about the Danish Aussie Rules team he visited last night – could have got a game, if he’d have brought the right shoes. We talk about suburbs in Sydney, suburbs in Melbourne. Brisbane. Danish are very particular about accent – they can’t understand the wrong one. Germans don’t all speak English. Netherlanders are friendly and warm. Vegemite is banned by customs, here. Have you seen The Hague? Worth going?

We all fill out our forms there at the table, leaning against the wall, sitting eight around a small coffee table. No one cares about shielding their vote. I vote above the line, and fill out my lower house ballot with the Sex Party last.

Andrew sits at the only voting ‘booth’, shielded with those white and purple cardboard things the CAE hand out. Takes ages to fill out the form. One by one, group by group, the Australians leave the embassy. The atmosphere has gone with the people. No more accents, no more buzz. People who came after us leave before us. The staff has gone to lunch. Still, Andrew fills. The one guy is about to go to lunch.

‘I think you’ve got the record!’ he says. ‘I’m just going to grab something. How long do you think you’ll be?’

‘Thirty seconds,’ he says, and asks for another form. He’s lost count. Puts a ‘1’ above the line.

 

The Magical Bridge to Fat Filled Bread

Marie has bright, light blue eyes the colour of ice, eyes that don’t leave you alone. Her smile spans the entirety of her face, an undeniable force that harasses you with friendliness. From the dark apartment doorway, purple with the shadows of the encroaching gloaming, she stands, arms outstretched, fully open to welcome. She smiles, and it’s massive. There is no trace of awkward meeting, no lingering unsureness, even after almost 15 years. She is not larger than life, but rather throws life out of her with a carelessness she can afford, because she has so much of it to spare.

‘Hello!’ she exclaims, and hugs Andrew, a man she’s only seen in wedding photos.

Marie lives on the first floor of an apartment between Amager Øst and Christianshaven, amongst brick gargantuan buildings with flower boxes and picture windows. The buildings come at you as you walk down Amagerbrogade towards the city like big things out for lunch, the sun lighting one side of them like mountains.

We cross the bridge from Sweden to Copenhagen at 110 kilometres per hour. We had watched the bridge disappear behind an island from the other side, and speculated at its length as we ate our lunch on the beach.

It was too many years ago that I met Marie – just years, and years: so many years that seems like the me in the photos must be a different person. But they show me for who I was, and who I am: same teeth (my cousin called me ‘Buck-tooth Bec’); same licks and curls in the hair. Different colour hair; naturally blonde. Me in my room, with Tess in the late ‘90s, the walls covered with pictures of Stereophonics and the Spice Girls, the Cranberries and Korn. Weird art that I had scratched out with hard wax crayons, and that I thought was pretty good (it wasn’t). Me laughing with Tess, Marie behind the camera. Us laughing without worrying who was looking at our teeth. Me in a beanie and my favourite short sleeved baseball shirt, long sleeved shirt underneath it, dirt down the arm, the flush of exercise on my cheeks, having made Marie-Louise hike through the bush in a country she wasn’t used to. I remember Tess and Marie and I in the bottom paddock, teaching her how to go squat when you were busting and didn’t have a toilet, and how to climb over a barbed wire fence. A city girl, she was naturally bad at it, and sent us all into fits of laughter.

Marie-Louise is a photo saver. She has a box of them, and the box is full – probably one of many. Her apartment is decorated in sparse Scandinavian whites and pastels; her friends call her ‘grandma’ because of her impeccable taste for antiques. She says she doesn’t understand why in Australia, we have only one name for ‘grandmother’, when they say ‘farmor’ for your father’s mother, and ‘marmor’ for your mother’s. I agree, and say that we’ll institute that custom when we have kids. I would agree with anything, this morning, because Marie has moved one of her client’s appointments back, and gone out and bought danish breakfast for us. The table is spread with Danish nut bread, which we have with cheese, or Nutella, or red fruit jam I don’t recognise, and proper butter; she has bread chocolate (that I think you put on toast); she sprinkles muesli over little glass bowls filled with a yoghurt-milk hybrid that they all eat for breakfast, and sprinkles it with juicy raisins; she boils eggs and we have them with small pieces of something like pumpernickel, sliced delicately lengthways, which she folds into three pieces with her fingers; we have orange juice and coffee that I have bought from the coffee shop twenty-five steps around the corner. There are meats for the bread. And of course, the danish. Marie assures us that the only place you can get proper danish is in Denmark – those things they have at meetings are not danish.

‘It’s… she looks at the ceiling, trying to translate it in her mind. Struggling. ‘Ah… fat bread.’ She shrugs. Smiles. Proud of it. ‘They’re not something you have every day. You would put on too much weight. It’s like cake – you don’t eat that every day.’

The danish is just like she says – when you bit into the pastry, it seems filled with a pleasant kind of… lard. You can feel the fat as it dissolves in your mouth. It’s wonderful.

We give her peanut butter. She hasn’t had it before. I won’t pretend the exchange was fair.

We look at the photos over breakfast, which stretches from nine to eleven thirty.

(As a small aside, we were going to have danish this morning – that’s why I went for an extra run. I went out at 7am to burn the 600 calories I figured it would take to allow me about 900 calories for breakfast. Then Marie went out for breakfast, so it worked out well. But I think I overspent on the calories. I ate a LOT. She said to me, this morning, ‘there will be more danish this week,’ and smiled. So it looks like I’ll just have to sightsee in the daytime, and run at night. I can replace sleep with danish.)

Years and years ago, she came to Corryong Secondary College as an exchange student – I never would have believed it was only for six weeks. It seems much longer. Tess and I latched on to her, I guess, like we did every new person, and took her for rambles around the cow paddocks on an Australian farm, or in the mean main street of Corryong where you could see the school from Tess’s bedroom window.

Marie is younger, too, in the photos. But her eyes and face still have the same exuberance they have now. There is something different about me to now, though. I can see a confidence, and a disregard for fear, that I don’t have now. I can see that I’ve become something I don’t want to be – something that Marie is not. There’s a sort of cowering, now, that wasn’t there before. And I know that it was there; I was shy. But if it’s worse now, it must be pretty bad.

I don’t smile now, in photos, because I don’t like my teeth.

When do we become so scared of ourselves? Or is that just me?

Marie talks about her city with a pride that oozes from the core of her being. She talks about Copenhagen in personal collective pronouns. ‘We’ do things this way, and ‘we’ do them that way.

‘Just wait until you see the Palace,’ she says with fervour. She talks with no clapping excitement – no outlandish enthusiasm, just honest respect. ‘We have it open, so that we can walk around it and through it. It is not closed.’ She just knows, because she knows her city, that we will be as captivated as she is by it. And we are.

Copenhagen is modern, without giving way to modernity. The buildings are strong, solid, brick and old, in this part of town. The city, too, is bristling with old ways of doing things. There are none of the sky scrapers that blight other cities, in the parts that I have seen. All stone, all bricks, cobbles and sandstone. All cafes and hairdressing salons and cultural buildings. The Royal Theatre, the Opera House. Christianshaven, with its gardens and ramshackle housing, intermittent with its own large brick houses, and running tracks that lead you right up to someone’s house. (I’ll need a separate post about Christianshaven, because Marie wants to show us around.) We travelled by bus to the Royal Palace, a large open round with no locked iron gates. (I tried to see Princess Mary, but no luck. Thought I could ask her where you buy Vegemite around here. Had new respect for the fact that she isn’t now the size of a small building, with all the danish available.)

There is something outstanding about Marie that I can’t quite explain. It has to be one of the reasons that I sent her a message that we were coming, and would love to see her. I don’t generally do that sort of thing. She insisted that we come and stay with her straight away.

‘Oh! Wonderful! That you are coming to my small country!’

At night on the first day, after Marie was asleep, I thought about the fact that I had contacted her, and felt profoundly embarrassed. She was sleeping in the lounge room, and had given us her bedroom, regardless of our protests. I didn’t know what had lead me to call on a friend that I had made fifteen years ago, for only a few weeks, and was now staying in her house, cooking in her kitchen. I was shocked at myself – I’d cooked Andrew and I food in her tiny apartment, on the first night, as if I belonged there! Has travelling, and having no real home, changed me into a presumptuous monster? It’s nothing I can put my finger on, but we fit in now, with anyone, as if we’ve been there all our lives. There is no… pretence. No polite distance any more.

Perhaps that comfort is merely a result of Marie. When she speaks, her words actually comfort me: I can feel my shoulders relaxing. She reminds me of family, of my Aunty Faye, the way her words can soothe me seemingly without cause. And I think: well. I don’t know what to put it down to, other than good fortune; to have good family, and to have met good friends.

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Dreaming Vegemite Rivers

Arsenal is lining up for a penalty. The keeper’s jumped into the air and jackknifed back down over someone. No additional penalty, and it’s half time, 1-0. I don’t care where you are: you can be comfortable in an Irish pub, watching the Arsenal beat Spurs. Surprisingly, we’re not the only ones watching this game – there are eight of us spread over the forest green faux leather couches. Surprising because the Gaelic football all Ireland final is on the five other tellies. But Bulmers only costs 66kr (say, $12AUD), not a face scratching $33AUD, and the barman gave me my coffee for free.
‘It’s not very good,’ he said with a smile. It’s fine, for an Americano (read: black water.)

I’m particularly happy to be in this pub today, as we’re in Gotenburg, on a rainy and overcast Sunday with the shops closed. I have to admit that Gotenburg isn’t exactly what I associate with Sweden. Not everyone’s blonde, and everything is grey. I only saw three IKEAs in the highway from the Norwegian border to here (about an hour), and not one person was yodelling. I even wound down the windows. But, country-ist stereotypes aside, Sweden is beautiful. The trees have changed from the denser, darker woods of Oslo to the thinner, lighter, what I want to call ‘spruce’ trees that I think of when I think of blondes in knitted jumpers. Tall bridges cover skinny inlets lined with boats moored to family houses. Yellow and blue road signs say things to us that I don’t understand. The language, the further north we go (or south again, now), gets further and further from English, so that you can hardly even guess any more. Andrew bought yoghurt instead of milk again (actually, last time it was buttermilk), and the only word we’ve recognised is ‘skola’ next to a primary school.

We’re staying with Linda, a stunning Swedish woman with eyes the colour of arctic glaciers, and her son Cesar. She dances all types of dances with Spanish names, and has a pole in her lounge room because she likes to pole dance for fun. Cesar’s dad, she says, died in prison two years ago. As in, was murdered. She says it was an accident. But we’re speaking English, and so she looks at Cesar. ‘He was murdered, actually. But I say it was an accident for Cesar.’ It’s not the kind of thing I expect her to say. But after he died, she met Miguel. We met Miguel last night, and he and Cesar are like peas in a pod. Miguel used to play football for the Dominican Republic, and never misses a game in television. Cesar calls him ‘Dad’.

Andrew and I are in different modes of travel, I seems. I am tired of Scandinavia – beautiful as it is – and I want to go back to the UK. We have made contact with Keith’s parents, and I can’t wait to meet them. Andy loves Scandinavia, and would stay here instead of London, if he could, I think.
Perhaps France, and Spain, for the beaches. But I miss Vegemite. And I cant help but think it means I actually miss home.

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Everybody Loves a Fjord

(this post was written a week ago; had no internet to post it)

The tourist leader approaches the ship staff, worn out and jaded at only 1pm. ‘I have fourteey,’ she says, holding up a giant toy flower. No one knows whether she means fourteen, or forty. Other groups have little Miffy dolls on sticks, or just a folded piece of paper. The ship staff member asks her for her ticket. She pulls it away. ‘I have already shown the other,’ she says, and starts counting her charges through. ‘Ich, ni, san, yon, go, rocku,’ she pushes their backpacks like they’re cargo. We all wait for them to come through, slightly peeved that forty people – it’s forty, we know now, because she went past ju yon ages ago – are sliding into the ship before us. The Australian girl is talking about Scottish accented English speaking Norwegians, and the fact that her mother works for her. It’s bedlam, and not quite what I imagined from the fjord boat tour we had planned today. Butters is like the cat that got the cream at being here in Flam, and the fjords. We got to the bus stop at 11.00 this morning, expecting to go on a bus tour to the white caves. It had been cancelled, because one of the massive tunnels had been closed after a truck caught fire in it a couple of weeks ago. This is the same tunnel that caused us to extend our trip from Bergen to Oslo by four and a half hours the other day, missing the football. The tour people didn’t tell us the tour was cancelled, but luckily for them, they offered us this Asian tourist packed fjord tour instead, which does the fjord bit twice. So no caves, but twice the fjord. Butters didn’t get the seats he wanted on the boat, but he’s alright about it. He’s walking around like a salmon upstream to get some good shots. I’m sitting here typing – which I feel guilty about, because everyone else is taking photos – and listening to Greg the American talk to Yan the Chinese undergraduate about his Norwegian purchases at that decibel level Americans seem to gravitate towards – loudspeaker. He’s bought some sunglasses with a picture of the Norwegian flag on them.

‘I can’t see the flag,’ he says over the inboard loudspeaker. ‘They’ve got a flag of Norway on them. Can you see the flag?’ he asks, putting them on for Yan. ‘I can’t see the flag at all when I look through them,’ he says, white hair against red skin. Soon, Yan leaves his bag under the seat and disappears.

Flam is a small town on the other side of a 25 kilometre tunnel, closer to Bergen than Oslo. In the evening, the sun goes down over the mountains three or four hours before it goes down in the real world. In the morning, you can follow the progression of the sun slowly and clearly as it fills the bowl of Flam across the hours. The mountains are hard to describe. Intimidating, they are pieces of rock that rise up out of the fjords as if threatened, and making themselves their full height against whatever it is they fear. A band of brothers bracing themselves against something from God, they have been frozen that way like trolls in the sunlight, tricked into staying this way forever. There would be little way, it seems, to climb them without picks and a rope. And Flam just sits there, as if being in amongst this kind of overwhelming phenomenon is natural. What it’s always done. Which it has, I suppose. I do my morning interval sprints through the town centre and the road that leads to our cabin. A mailbox in a snow-shielded group next to a steep road climb is black, with a white painted anarchist star on it. No one seems to be awake in the town, apart from a group of black clad Japanese tourist men who laugh at me and take photographs on tripods of my swinging legs.

Last night, after driving through mountains with the kind of roads you normally only sees on Top Gear, we arrived at our cabin with hours of daylight left in the valley. We made friends with the sheep that dangled huge cow bells and, unlike any sheep I’ve seen before, advanced on us individually to ask us what our business was. We stood for ages on recently mown farm paddocks and watched the water fall from the height of the Eureka tower down to the river below, to stream past us where we stood. .

The fjord, now, is showing off for us, revealing corners of snow covered mountain peak through sheer cliffs of rock. Villages with pointed red rooves look at us, grateful that the hordes of tourists are kept at bay in a vessel that slides through the fjord half a kilometre away.

The thing today is to find a place on the ship. Everything is insanely beautiful, and everything needs to be photographed, ten times over, by everyone. I think if we pooled our photos by wifi, or something, and we all had access to them at the end of the trip, we could just sit down and witness what it’s like to have a few hundred meters of rock overhanging you like it was and ice cream cone, gradually melting and about to fall off, smashing you into the water, submerging the boat like an apple in a barrel in the apple bob. Perhaps one person could be the designated picture taker, and the rest of us could just sit here and think about glaciers and Vikings.

‘These were all glaciers, once,’ says the American, to the new guy sitting next to him. New guy is from Korea, and makes a joke that he’s from the North. ‘They were glaciers, and then they were fjords.’ Some of the mountains are made of white rock, like the head of a statue in London frequented by pigeons. Some are covered in what looks like normal wood, green and earthen terrain. We turn from the large, sea fjord into a narrow fjord, and the shores close in. And all the time, everyone takes photos. It’s hard to take a bad photo, here, and there’s really no rush. There’s one guy in a black coat that seems to be able to get in the way of the few photos I do take. I’ll call him the black jacket photo nemesis.

Andrew is away too long, and a young Japanese mother steals his seat, and pretends she doesn’t see my glances. I let it go when her son comes at her and clearly fobs her off in Japanese. She’s got more on her plate than a lost chair.

We see the kayaks that we’ll be in tomorrow, paddling through the fjords as if we have a chance of getting anywhere. They look like tadpoles being paddled by common black ants down a torrent from a spilt cup of water. That’s what’s happening tomorrow. The next day, we’re getting a train up a 20k mountain and biking back down. I peer at the snow that has not melted throughout the entire winter on the top. I rub my fingers together, trying to remember what kind of travel insurance we have.

So long, triceps. Quadriceps, goodbye.

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Giant, Wet, Purple Troll Flesh at 70k/h

And still – in Oslo now, having moved on from Bergen – I feel a weird compulsion not to go outside so that I can avoid the prices. It’s like they’re airborne, like a communicable disease, and merely stepping out the door will infect me with overpriced lattes and that renewed surprise with which converting every price down to Australian dollars comes. Like the parking ticket we got on the first night outside our flat, for example: 500 KR = $AUD100. We knew that the parking was insane, here. In Bergen, we’d finally worked out Norwegian parking code: that blue sign with the red diagonal cross represented no parking from that sign, in the direction you are facing, to the parking zone times sign, or to the first crossroad. About as clear as the beach at Scheveningen after an oil spill. Except that it doesn’t mean that, clearly, because we got a parking ticket. If you’re in Europe, and parking, take time to study this. Our housemate for the week, Alberto, kindly showed us that the first place we parked, outside the flat, was outside the legal parking area. He then told us to park in the space that got us a ticket later on. Even he doesn’t get it. So I feel less bad about it. Right up until two minutes from now, when I will pay the fare online.

Alberto is an Italian national studying communication, a type of course that will let him open a cafe restaurant later on. Italy is three hours from Oslo (by plane, I guess). The proximity kind of goes towards understanding why he’s studying in the most expensive country in the world, which caused him to use the only swearword I’ve heard him use so far.

‘It’s f*#@ing so expensive,’ he said, leaning on the door next to his bedroom while we were having our ‘getting to know you’ chat on our arrival. ‘I’m sorry to use the word, but it is.’

Alberto is at work, now. I’ve often wondered what it says about our world, what positive, often ignored wonderful thing that our collective culture allows us to let strangers stay in our house alone in the middle of the day. I’m sitting in his house, and I met him two days ago. We’re nice people, and so is he, but the resources he has to check that that is the case are limited before our arrival. Airbnb has been a Godsend for us, and we have had only one bad experience. And that was just dirty and inconvenient, not terribly unsafe. Anyway: Airbnb. Just saying. Try it.

I’ll tell you about getting here – from Bergen to Oslo – because that’s the best bit. But for context, I think the drive took something out of us. It’s almost eleven in the morning, and lovely darling kitten cute face husband is asleep, and grumpy. The travelling caught up with him yesterday, and we even had a nap in the daytime. That doesn’t happen. It all started when the Bergen boys came over to the Bergen flat. In Norway – and I might have told you this, I can’t remember – young people don’t go out to the pub for happy hour. Happy hour doesn’t exist here (although, Skins told us of rumours he had heard about a happy hour, somewhere, I think, possibly with VB). Beer is expensive, so you buy at the supermarket and do all your drinking at home before you go out. So Nick, Skins, Oyster, Erik and the others came over and drank with us until 1:30am. Then Andy went out with them until 5am. I stayed at home, but the flat next door really kept it up into the wee hours. Long story short, we were both flatter than pancakes, and I had my 10k run in the morning. Kicked it’s arse: took 5 minutes off my time. Andy got a second wind in the afternoon and ran up Mt Floyen, which also kicked a lot of arse. The next day we were to drive to Oslo to watch the football.

The drive is seven hours. So that’s significant enough. But we weren’t expecting… what we got.

Most of the first part is tunnels. At a certain point, it must get more cost effective to build a tunnel than lay a road. I imagine that point is when the road rises at, say, at a 90 degree angle. They really care for their tunnels, in Norway – each of them has a name, and a sign telling you how long it is. Such as, for example, tunnel Tosen, which is 5,857 metres long. Or another one, which might be 120 metres long. The speed limit rarely if ever exceeds 80k/h in Norway, at least around and between Bergen and Oslo, and for the most part it is 70k/h. This seems to be because driving in Norway is like having a state sanctioned epileptic in a large blunt object. The road may have been planned by placing a piece of elastic from one place to another, which at some point snapped and became kinkier than a cut snake. Not for no reason – Norway is a series of large rocks strewn through the North Sean with houses on them and bridges in-between. At many points, going through the rock is just easier. They want to tell you how long the tunnels are because without some sort of context, you start to think you’re never getting out. One 100m tunnel will end and 50m later, there is another, and another. I put a ban on Andy announcing me how long each tunnel was, unless it was over 4 kilometres. He didn’t have to stay quiet long.

The tunnels are of course two-way, which is difficult to get used to. Driving in Europe, for Bec, is like a progressive set of life challenges meant to boost your ability to cope in the world. It’s like army training. ‘Hey – you think that’s driving? You weasley midget! Take everything you know – NOW REVERSE IT! Do everything the opposite, you maggot! The machinery will be on the opposite side! Used to that?! NOW GO BACK TO LONDON! NOW CHANGE BACK! Just see how your brain handles that, you weasel. Now, do that in the dark, with speeding cars coming at you! Now swerve all over the countryside in the rain! Now go up, using only second gear! Now go down! Faster!’

Anyway, it must be pretty obvious that that’s how I see most of my life. A drill sergeant yelling at me.

Norway is the most intimidating, spectacular country to drive through. This was not a drive – it was like the equivalent of an action movie in a car trip.

From Bergen city towards the mountains, are the tunnels. It was raining the day we drove, so everything was slightly more challenging. There are no straight stretches in Norway. Straight away, you start to rise. First, the mountains are dark green, covered with conifers, with rock peeking through. Fog is everywhere, just resting on the flats and rising to into the air. There is no distinguishing the rain clouds from the fog; it’s all the same. Then, you start to see the mountains get closer. Not mountains that you’re heading towards, but the ones to your left and right. They’re so close, you could almost touch them. You slide through the tunnels, the sides of which look like they have been chiselled out, and they probably have. You exit a tunnel to bright light, and another mountain smashes you in the face. It’s right there.

After a while, you stop calling them mountains, because mountains are made of dirt and soft things, familiar to the eye. These things are pieces of rock thousands of years old, put here by God and stopped there forever. It’s raining, and as you approach the next monolith, the size of two Eureka towers (or, say 200 floors high), rivers of water course down the sides, for a while looking like veins of quartz running down the rock, or like sticks of lightening. It crashes down the mountain and into the sea, sometimes right on the edge of the road, into a series of under-road tunnels and into the fjords.

Then the mountains get animal. Instead of rock, they are giant things that seem to be made of cold, purple flesh. I can see how the stories of trolls came to be – these things look like felled monsters that could emerge at any time, and stand up to full height, crushing you with a fist. This terrain isn’t just challenging – it’s terrifying. It’s confronting. Every muscle in your body is alert – worse when the road seems like a surface of polished glass because of the rain – and every sense is being harassed, at every moment. This sort of terrain shouldn’t exist for people to exist within. It’s too extreme.

It’s the most terrifyingly beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

We stopped at a road stop to go to the toilet. There was a 100 storey cliff face staring at the ladies room door.

On the top of the mountain, above the tree line, the terrain is flat, but hilly. I’d breathe a sigh of relief, but the roads twist and turn, with no verge, the sides plunging down fifty metres to dirt and rock. I follow what looks like an ice-cream truck, for safety, and what feels like solidarity. It’s comforting to see the back of the same truck the whole time. Even if it’s only happening at 70k/h, this is pretty real. You’ve got to have a friend up here.

On the other side, Norway is a different country. Where Bergen was grey and charming, the Oslo side feels like a real city, grounded in some sort of reality. There are farms. There is wheat, and yellow fields. The lakes that emerge from the torrents of water are clear, and calm. And vast. The pines are clean and fresh – this country reminds me of what America looks like in movies. This is also bear country. You can tell, because the big road stop with the McDonald’s has a fifty foot, plastic, rampant bear in the middle of the car park, and another in the middle of the roundabout with teeth like crimping scissors.

At McDonald’s, a Big Mac costs 50KR. That’s ten Aussie dollars. There has never been a better time for me to completely bypass buying junk food.

At the supermarket, later in Oslo, the deli attendant helps me find the Ricotta, and we chat about Australia.

‘Aren’t there lots of snakes and spiders in Australia?’ he asks, almost laughing.

‘Not if you don’t spend a long time in an outback toilet in the summer,’ I say. ‘And they’re kind of shy.’

‘We are famous for having the most expensive hamburger, here,’ he says, and I can’t tell if he’s ashamed, or proud. I can believe him.

(These images insert at a different size from my phone than they do my PC, and I can’t be bothered right now to change that.)

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This was the only proper coffee I had in Norway. I cherished it. And a cinnamon bun that would knock your socks off.

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Us being sweaty. Knocked 5 minutes off my 10k time (smashed it). Andrew after he ran up Floyen.

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Trolls. Everywhere up Mt Floyen there are trolls. I think this one, from what we could make of the sign, is a witch who eats Christian men. Moving right along.

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The view from the lookout at the top of Mt Floyen. This is also the mountain that Andrew ran up a couple of days later. After a big night out.

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The tram that pulls you up the mountain. We used it to go down.

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Parking spot. Parking spot. Around corner. Ocean liner.

 

We Built This City on Dried Herring.

Rik is the Dutch boyfriend of Andrew’s Australian schoolfriend, Kathleen. Rik lives in Bergen, Norway, and works on an oil rig two weeks on, four weeks off. Or the other way around. Kathleen works for DFAT, and is taking time off from work, where they most recently had her posted in Jordan. They are now on holiday in Italy, I think – four weddings two months – and we are staying at Rik’s apartment in Bergen. Which is great of him, because it’s right in the heart of the city, and staying anywhere in Norway requires you to take out a second mortgage on your house. And we don’t even have a house. So yay.

Staying in Bergen is fine, really, if you’re boring like us, and only really buy food. I’m eating 1200 calories a day and training, anyway, which makes it pretty easy. The hard part is feeding Butters twice that – but he loves triple peanut butter sandwiches for snacks, so it’s not difficult at all.

The students here have an interesting life. Bergen is a university town, and this is O-week. We saw Skinlo the other day, our friend from Clube, when he took us to the football. Norwegians have been some of the best players for Clube over the years – we still yearn for the dulcet midfield stylings of Knut Knutsen – and I think they might come to Australia for the cheap beer. Butters said that they go nuts in Australia because of the prices, but I didn’t get it until I was here. Beer costs about $8 a bottle in the supermarket. It’s not a complaint, as such, just an observation about the cost of living, which is something that everyone has to deal with, and therefore notable. Anyway, students get to go to Uni for free (Australia dumped that ridiculous policy years ago. What a stupid idea to educate your next generation and enhance the intelligence of your country. Silly idea) but they still have student loans. To live. You know – buy food, and stuff. Skins lives with his mum, I think, but still gets loans. He’s just got the job as cultural editor for his school magazine (we all decided it was a good idea to start spreading the nickname ‘Dr Culture’, which we can spell ‘Dr Kulcha’ only on Sundays – everyone needs a nickname), where he sends off unpaid journo cadets (he says all the girls are crap at writing – he’s a charmer) to review gigs and sports and shows. Anyway, he’s not been around a lot this week, because the hoards of eighteen year old uni students, looking effervescently excited and cool, but nervous and unsure about how they’re walking and standing, are part of his job. He has to tell them about what they should be spending their small amounts of borrowed cash on. But all of the boys from Clube in Bergen – Skinlo, Oysten, Nick, Erik, Gunner – are going out tonight with Butters. I bowed out, very smartly I think. Protein shakes are my beer, early nights are my late nights, etc, etc (http://pinterest.com/pin/447615650435241094/). I’m running 10k tomorrow morning. The thing is, though, that they will all be coming over to our house to drink before going out to drink. That’s what people do in Bergen, because it’s too expensive to drink out. They get drunk before they go out. Which is a terrible idea in terms of making the right beer decisions anyway, because you’re much more likely to go ‘to hell with it!’ and buy beer out, if you’re drunk when you get there. Right?

We climbed Floyen the other day, one of the mountains that rises out of the main street of the city, almost. It was a walk, and as usual the natives were lapping us on the uphills. Middle aged ladies in shorts were walking past us on every slope. I’ve noticed that everyone walks faster than you, here. I was delicately making my way down one of the mountains one morning, the soles of me feet almost parallel with my shins, it was so steep, when an old lady passed me at twice the speed on her fashionable-shoed walk to work. Embarrassing. On the flat streets, too, people seem to be walking normally, but it’s like looking at one of the giant passenger ferries in the harbour – they are actually moving at a ridiculously fast pace. Bored teenagers with their eyes melded to their smartphones – as opposed to early thirty year olds with their eyes melded to their Smartphones, like us – glide past at the speed of sound. Whoever that rich guy is in America who’s suggesting a public transport system that goes at the speed of sound, should visit. I think it’s the hills, and the long legs. Two things that Americans don’t have access to – exercise and height.

The harbour is beautiful. The fish markets line the major inlet, and have tables set up to eat their food. A lot of them sell soup, and they have gas burners at the tables, I guess so that you can make the soup how you want it. Most of the stalls are for fish: dried herring, which apparently gave this town its wealth (the trade was huge. I’m being trying to imagine how you’d eat it), and all kinds of fresh and pickled everything. You can buy whale meat, and they have prawns in big white rolls with lemon and dill. The locals weren’t allowed to shop at the harbour fish markets from the 1600s, or something like that, until the early twentieth century, for some reason. Probably to keep the prices down for the peasant folk. There are also stalls with jumpers, and trolls, and reindeer skins. It’s a small market, but cute. The large, tall, pointy houses on the sides of the harbour are shades of red, white and yellow, and made of wood.

We took the cable car to the top of the other mountain, Mt Ulriken. The wind was so cold that my fingers almost froze to the plastic take away container I had brought my lunch up in. I ordered Butters an Earl Grey tea (some hot water and a tea bag in a tiny mug).

It cost eight dollars.

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